‘I had to surrender to the poker gods’ – Tiffany Michelle and the importance of bankroll management

Terrance Reid
Published by:
Posted on: February 9, 2023 2:15 pm EST

She placed 17th in the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2008, making it further than any woman in the field. She ran deep in the television show Amazing Race with friend and fellow poker professional Maria Ho. Tiffany Michelle has so many accolades to her name that listing them here would fill this article. We’ll add one more, though.

At the end of last year, she added World Series of Poker gold ring winner when she took first place at the WSOP Circuit stop in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

One of the secrets behind her success is bankroll management.

She highlighted this herself in a tweet from the WPT World Championship in Las Vegas last December, where she said she wasn’t bankrolled to play the $10k main event, and that this is “REAL #poker talk that I think a lot of #pokerplayers are too embarrassed to discuss.”

PokerOrg’s Sarah Herring spoke to her straight afterwards, and she explained why it was so important to stick to bankroll management and not have your head turned by a tournament outside of your plan, no matter how tempting and how big the potential payday.

“I did not come to Vegas for this tournament and I’m not bankrolled to play the $10K main event,” Michelle said. “I had my budget and my bankroll… and then it gets so hard when everyone’s like, ‘oh my god the prize pool is so huge’ and all your friends are playing.

“I just tweeted something that I don’t think enough poker players are talking about, how you can be like my level of poker success, like you’re known, you play on TV and you have a World Series of Poker ring, and you’re not bankrolled to play $10Ks.

“It was uncomfortable for me to tweet because it’s going to make me look like not a big boss to say I’m not bankrolled to play this $10K, but we have to be able to talk about that.

It’s fantastic advice for any poker player and we decided we had to dig a little bit deeper into Tiffany’s bankroll management plan.

Talk to us about that decision point. You have all these friends playing the huge $10K WPT World Championship, that’s outside of your bankroll. It’s not in your plan. Why is that plan so important?

“It’s such a complicated topic. For that WPT series, I knew how much I could spend on tournaments. I targeted a few tournaments, I sold some action. But then, push comes to shove, you’ve played a couple of days, you’re having a great time, you’re in the energy, and there’s all this buildup to the Main Event. The prize pool gets bigger than anyone expected. If you’ve been playing well, you almost talk yourself into it. Other people can talk you into it. You have all those voices in your head. So, I sat there one night, thinking, ‘How can I play this 10k Main Event? Should I satellite in? Should I sell more action? Should I splurge with my bankroll, take whatever money I would play on the next series, and put it here?’

“In that moment, I walked myself through if this is not the Cinderella story. If you don’t go and win the event, if you don’t even cash in it, how are you going to feel driving out of Vegas knowing you spent so much more than you could afford? Knowing you potentially took action away from your next series, and now you have to skip something you wanted to play. I know that feeling. I know how horrible it is to sit there regretfully and wish I could go back in time and undo that bad decision. In that moment, I had to surrender to the poker gods. Poker isn’t going anywhere.”

When you are making the plan and setting the budget, what are the important factors for you to set yourself up for success?

“I sit down and look at the schedule. For me, I want to play as much volume as I can within my budget. I’ve started shifting my mindset. Sure, it would be great to play that $1,200 Main Event on the circuit. But, I could play three $400 Deepstacks for more chances. I want more volume. I understand variance won’t let me get there every time. Also, it’s not looking at the glamour of what the biggest guarantee is. If I sit down and play a $400 and make $2,000, $5,000, $7,000 in a day, that’s actually a really good return on investment for my time on a daily basis. Of course, I’m looking at what events I have an advantage on the field. I have an advantage in deep stacks and I prefer freezeouts. I want to play every Ladies’ Event. I’m looking at my potential edge and what gives me the most action.

“In Tahoe, I played multiple $400 tournaments in a row and made deep runs. On the day of the Main Event, I woke up and didn’t want to play. I felt too tired to play it. So, even if you have a plan, if you don’t feel like sitting at the table that day, do not go and register. There’s rarely the story of the person that didn’t feel like playing that day and ended up winning.”

How do you keep the ego in check? You are well-known in the poker community and a lot of people know you, does that make things more difficult?

“I think that comes with age. My first year ever at the World Series of Poker was in 2006 doing reporting and I was so taken by all the energy. At this time, I’m playing $200-$400 tournaments at the Bike in Los Angeles and home games. But I get to the WSOP and at that time the lowest buy-in you could play was $1,000. I thought, ‘I’ve been doing so well in my home games, I’ve been turning a profit, I need to be a part of one of these World Series events.’ The ego is there, you want to be seen with all these people. I took out $1,000 on a credit card. And of course, I’m out of the tournament super quickly. On another day, I go and do it again. I put another $1,000 on a credit card. It’s the biggest memory I have of not having a plan or a bankroll and making bad decisions because of ego.

“Fast forward to getting some fame from the World Series run. At this point, I’ve signed a deal with Ultimate Bet. They’re paying me a monthly, I have a tournament allowance. Now I have supplemental income. Now they’re putting me into $10k events. Then Black Friday happened. That all dies. Mentally, I still think I travel and play professionally in these $10k events. It was a check your ego moment. I’m now famous for playing poker, and people know me for playing these big events, what are people going to say when they see me in the local $400 tournament? Fortunately for me, it made more sense that I wanted to play ten tournaments for the price of one. I had to swallow my pride, but I felt better because I was making a logical decision and a good financial decision.

“When you realize that your ego is just yours, and honestly no one else really gives a f#@k about you, you’re the only one you have to talk into or out of a decision. No one else is sitting at home documenting what you are or aren’t playing. Who cares what other people say, right? But they’re probably not going to care anyway.

Tiffany Michelle at the 2018 WSOP

What are your current goals in poker with the bankroll and the plans you’re making?

“It’s one tournament at a time now. I’ve been in poker for so long. Because my introduction to poker was breaking all these records, getting notoriety, signing endorsement deals, and getting on television, I did all the things people aspire to at the early stage of my career. It takes so much pressure off of me. I know that might not be super relatable to the poker community, but I know no one can take those achievements away from me. Even if I go another ten years and do nothing in poker, I have this pride and these achievements.

“A lot of people don’t know, but I traveled for three to five years as Maria Ho’s personal assistant as her career was taking off. I was playing less because I couldn’t afford it as much after Black Friday. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been hungry to really play again. That’s the great thing about poker. It’s never going anywhere. You can take a couple of years off, go get a job, and do whatever you want to do. The best time you play is when you’re excited to sit at the table, excited to grind it out, and you have the patience to sit there for hours.”

Speaking of your deep run in 2008. Knowing what you know now, if you could go back and speak to yourself after that cash, what advice would you give yourself?

“Great question. Get a money manager. Get a business manager to tell you where to put it and how much you should put back into poker. I was so young. You’re going to make bad financial decisions. You don’t have the life experience to go lock that money up. On top of the cash, I also made another $100,000 with logo deals on ESPN at the World Series, and then I signed the deal with Ultimate Bet. So of course you think that all this money’s coming in, I’m not going anywhere, UB isn’t going anywhere. My dad tried to tell me to be smart and put some away. But it’s hard when you feel like you’re on a heater, you want to play more and want to spend more. I blew through a lot.

“It’s different learning these things from someone else telling us. Hopefully we have people around us helping us to make good decisions, but going through it yourself and learning from experience really internalizes it and makes it sink in. I don’t know if we can really ‘go back and tell ourselves’ something and learn from it.”

While you have your plan and your bankroll in place, are there any situations where you would reason with yourself that it’s okay to take a shot outside your bankroll?

“I’ve learned to become such a bankroll nit. Because I still remember putting a couple of thousand dollars on my credit card. I remember feeling that fear and that panic about where I was going to get the next money. That fear and that feeling has made me not want to take those shots.

“Even if there was a tournament that I wanted to take a shot it, I love these smaller tournaments now. I’ll blast off four bullets in a $400 tournament and play my best game because I know I have those backup bullets. The moment you put me in a high-pressure, high-buy-in situation I’m not playing my best game. I’m probably not taking spots and building a stack to make it to a final table. I know my game is not optimal if I’m not comfortable with the buy-in I’m playing.”

“Fortunately, I can take that financial pressure off by selling action sometimes. That’s the only way that I allow myself to take some big shots. Again, poker isn’t going anywhere. Whatever that one-of-a-kind situation that you think is in front of you will be there next year or next month. Build your bankroll. Plan strategically. Media attention and personalities are great for drawing people to poker. But, it’s hurt the intellect and the bankroll management of your average poker player. The only reasons you fire a $25k when you can’t afford that are clicks and views. ‘People will think I’m baller, I’ll get on television, this is high profile.’ If we took media away, if we went back to Binion’s and the Horseshoe, entering a smoky, dingy room in Vegas, would we fire that $25k when there’s no media?

“Don’t knock the small wins. You can market yourself based on your accomplishments. I can now say, ‘I’m a WSOP Circuit ring winner.’ Maybe it’s not the big win and big money, but even outside of poker that sounds really cool to people. It’s an achievement. A win is a win is a win.”

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